• You are here:
  • Home »
  • Cognitive Strategies

Tag Archives for " Cognitive Strategies "

Reduce overwhelm through chunking

messy box of buttons next to neat box of buttons sorted by color

The limits of working memory dictate that we can only focus on five to seven separate pieces of information at one time. Beyond that, it all starts turning into a blur.. which is why long strings of apparently unrelated information, or a long to do list, can feel so overwhelming.

But we can’t just whack our to do lists off at the roots, or only learn a fraction of what we are supposed to learn.

The solution is to group related items together, so that instead of say, 32 unrelated separate items, we end up with 4 groups of 8 items.

items sorted  by color

Learn and Get Smarter community member Rob Ruder demonstrated this principle at the community meeting last week, by teaching us 32 computer shortcuts in literally five minutes.  

Rob promises to share how he accomplishes that amazing teaching feat, in the Facebook group soon, so stay tuned!

Effective teaching, like Rob’s, relies on this chunking principal extensively to group related items together and make them much easier to learn.

When staring down a long list of things that have been causing stress, it’s helpful to chunk the list into categories.

One of the first questions to ask is, what categories will be most useful?

 In case of a list of stressors, it makes sense to create action categories, such as:

  • Things you can do something about
  • Things caused by the pandemic
  • Things you just have to put up with

Not only does creating categories shorten a long list into manageable segments, but it also suggests actions you can take to reduce the overall size of the list and cope with it better.

For a to do list, it helps to create action-based categories like “do”, “pay”, “buy”, and “call”.

That way you only have to DO a few different types of things… and  can easily make all the calls, or pay all the things that need paying, at one time.

What long lists of seemingly unrelated items are causing YOU stress right now? 

Whether it’s a holiday shopping list, a long to-do list for your business, or ALL THE THINGS you want to teach in your course, it can feel completely overwhelming to look at them all at once without having an effective structure to help you organize them.

Join the January 2021 cohort

of the Course Design Formula® Master Course

Space is limited.

Enrollment is via private interview only.

The course Design Formula® uses research into how people naturally learn different types of material , to give you pre-configured containers for chunking the material in your course.

 If you’re teaching a complex how-to skill with many components,for example, it simplifies things to know that you only need to focus on four big categories of things:

  • The big ideas one must understand in order to perform the skill
  • The tools, resources, or ingredients needed to perform the skill
  • The steps (rules)  that go into performing the skill
  • Any exceptions to those rules that require an adjusted approach to performing the skill

Let’s take a completely overwhelming task for online course creators: teaching ANYTHING (in the whole world) to ANYONE (ever).

That’s a huge job, right?

Swiss universal knife with tools on shelf

I read somewhere that if a job is really difficult, somewhere there is a tool that will make it really easy. 

It’s just a matter of finding that right tool.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to set up your online course, or entire online school, the Course Design Formula® is that right  tool that can cut through the stress and overwhelm.

Instead of an overwhelming and unlimited number of ways to set up your course, you’ll learn the five BEST ways and how to determine which ONE of those is optimal for YOUR specific material and course learning goal.

 (So actually, as it turns out, there is ONE best way to set up any particular online course, depending on the transformation you want your course to deliver).


And there is also one best way to learn how to USE this amazing tool, which is to reserve yourself a seat in the Course Design Formula® Master Course cohort starting January 12th, 2021.

 If you’re interested in exploring whether the course is right for you, book time on my calendar (before it’s all gone!) and let’s talk. 

I’d love to help you reduce the stress and overwhelm involved in designing and developing your online course (or your whole online academy).

Let's  take the stress and overwhelm out of structuring your ideas into an effective and engaging online course.

The Course Design Formula® helps you sort your expertise into research-based containers (schema) that are ready and waiting to help you transfer those ideas to your learners' minds as efficiently as possible. 

The Course Design Formula® is like a day spa for your mind--- because it takes the stress out of online course design.

Spa - Relaxation With Massage Stones And Waterlily In Water

 Save your spot 

Take the stress and overwhelm out of setting up YOUR online course

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, December 5th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Use the Course Design Formula® to customize learning

whimsical illustration of a lightbulb with a brain in it popping out of a box

I developed the Course Design Formula® to help you optimize the way you teach online, in the courses you create.

Learners can also use the formula to enhance the way they learn online, from courses they take.

Why is this important?

Let’s use an analogy from the world of health and medicine. When you go to the doctor, you may be given some kind of medical treatment. But the actual healing work that makes the treatment effective, has to come from you, from inside your own body. The medical treatment provides an outside catalyst or impetus to get the healing process started, but the true work of healing has to come from within.

In order to teach effectively, we have to set up a series of events that, step by step, lead to long term behavior change in the learner. But it’s up to the learner to make the decision to actually TAKE those steps, and implement the changes that demonstrate real learning has taken place.

Decoding and understanding problem, face to face explanation concept

As teachers, we can and should do our best to make our online courses effective, engaging, and fun. The Course Design Formula® will help you do that for the courses you teach.

But even if you’ve created an outstanding course, there’s no way to make it work perfectly for every single learner.

(In situations where complete individual customization is an absolute requirement, one-on-one coaching may serve you and your customer better than a course.)


Let’s say you’ve done a great job of optimizing your course, using the Course Design Formula®:

  • Your course has a single, clearly defined learning goal that takes the learner from Point A to Point B.
  • You’re clear on the domain of learning for the course as a whole.
  • You’ve set  up your module structure  properly to deliver the promised transformation.
  • You've built in motivational factors that appeal to what motivates your target audience.

    Many of your students come to class enthusiastically, do all the work on schedule, and are getting amazing results.

But what about the other students?

What about the ones who aren’t attending class… who signed up and paid for your course, and maybe (or maybe not even) attended a few sessions, and then vanished into cyberspace never to be heard from again, no matter how many email reminders you sent them?

How can you help THEM learn and get smarter using the Course Design Formula®?

It’s hard to impossible to get inside someone else’s head. The very fact that a student is NOT coming to class, or responding to your email, means you have no way beyond pure conjecture (which isn’t very effective) to actually know what their reasons may be, for not participating fully in your course.

You could spend every waking minute creating unlimited customized versions of your course to address the needs of every single learner, but you’d never be able to make it perfect for everyone.

That’s why I adhere to the adage “Done is better than perfect”.

Perfect is not an option. 

Once you've done your best to optimize your course,

the only options you have are done, and not done.

Remember when I said that if completely individualized customization is a requirement, then one-on-one coaching is the solution?  True...but  coaching is not scalable either. From a business model perspective, you as a teacher can only coach for as many hours as you have available. An online course on the other hand can be sold to an unlimited number of students.

That’s good in terms of making money for the course creator, but unless the course is custom-tailored to each student’s learning goals, preferences, and needs, it may not work ideally for the learner.

As an online instructor, if you have a large number of course participants, there's no way you can customize, adjust and adapt the course to each individual student's unique learning needs.

You know who CAN achieve that level of customization though? Each student individually.

The solution is for EACH STUDENT to become their own self-coach, 

customizing their learning journey through your course

(and any other online course they take) in ways that work specifically well for them.

This realization about how to make your course

 both scalable AND highly effective for each individual learner,

marries your business model to best practices for highly effective learning.

Colorful silhouettes of business people with icons suggesting conference, seminar or meeting


Research has shown that learners remember new material better when they are allowed and encouraged to find their OWN unique ways to process it for storage in long-term memory.

You may have experienced for yourself that when you want to be sure to remember something, for example the name of a person you've just met, it helps to relate it to something you already know.

For example, if you meet a new person named Sarah, who happens to look like your friend Sarah from college, mentally strengthening that association will make it easier for you to remember that this new acquaintance's name is Sarah, the next time you meet.

That same association wouldn't work for the colleague standing next to you, though, who didn't know your friend Sarah in college.

Your colleague might use a different method of remembering this new friend's name, such as noticing that you met this new Sarah while standing in front of the Saran Wrap at the supermarket. You and your colleague are each using your OWN method of what Gagné calls "Semantic encoding",  to store and process the information about your new acquaintance's name.

worker searching for something on warehouse shelves


So, the process of taking in new information and processing it for storage in long term memory, is called semantic encoding.

 Imagine a busy warehouse with packages (of new information) being pushed through a narrow doorway (of short term memory) into a tight processing space.

In that tight processing space, each packet of new information needs to be unpacked, sorted, labeled and stored on the right shelf in the vast warehouse of long term memory, so that it can be found and retrieved again when needed.

If you've ever crammed for a test, done well on it, and then promptly forgotten everything you'd learned, you are familiar with what happens when those packets of information don't get properly stored on the long-term memory shelves.

It's possible to do well on a test or otherwise parrot back information, without having truly learned it in the deepest sense of the word.

If you've truly learned something, you can recall and use it later... even much later.

What makes many online courses less effective than they could be, is that not enough attention is paid by either the instructor or the learner, to this process of semantic encoding.

As a learner in an online course, it's not your job to be an expert in how THEIR course is designed. That part is the instructor's job.

But you ARE an expert (the world's FOREMOST expert) on how YOU, personally, learn best.

 No one else. ..including the instructor... knows as much as you do about how you can best take in, process, and store, information.


The instructor may feel their job is done once they've presented the instruction. In our warehouse metaphor, that's equivalent to dropping the information packages off at the warehouse door.

The learner may feel they've done their job once they've gotten the information package through that doorway (into short term memory).

That's equivalent to bringing the package into the intake area of the warehouse, without actually opening the package, seeing what's in it, relating it to everything else that's already in the warehouse, labeling and tagging it for future retrieval, and storing it on a shelf in the long term storage area.


whimsical illustration of a lightbulb with a brain in it popping out of a box

As you can see, there are a lot more steps involved in actually learning something, than just presenting information (on the teacher's part) or superficially taking in information (on the learner's part).

The Course Design Formula® was designed to help course creators optimize the way they teach, to facilitate learning.

The formula can also work to help learners optimize the way they learn, to get more out of any course by creating a customized learning experience tailored to their own unique learning preferences and style.  

We'll explore this topic more in future blog posts. I'm creating a cognitive strategies course (learning how to learn) that each student can use to customize and optimize their own learning in any online course they take.

While you as an instructor can't customize  your course for every single student, you CAN make it easier for every student to optimize their own learning experience as they go through your course.

That's what I'm working on next... creating a way for  course participants to optimize their own learning using the Course Design Formula®.

 I'd love to hear your thoughts, reactions, questions, comments, or concerns.  My goal is to make not only teaching online, but also learning online, a gracious, harmonious and successful experience for everyone through effective learning design.

Now that so much learning, globally, has moved online due to the pandemic, making it a positive and accessible experience for everyone is more important than ever.

Let's continue the conversation in the Facebook group,

 and at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting next Saturday.

I hope you can join in and share your thoughts.

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, October 24th,  2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Novel Solutions to a Novel Crisis

Person enjoying online group cal from home

What do you do in a totally unprecedented situation, when there are no answers?

One thing you can do when you don't yet have answers is focus on asking more effective questions.

Another thing to do is to reach out to others to create communities and networks that can provide resources, guidance, and support.

None of us has all the answers, but together, we can move closer to asking the right questions.

That's what our Learn and Get Smarter community has been doing for the past several weeks, and our collective efforts have been yielding powerful results.

At last Saturday's Learn and Get Smarter community meeting we put together our work from earlier meetings to set up a cognitive strategies ("learning how to learn") course.

We decided to call the course

"Novel Solutions to a Novel Crisis."

cognitive strategies course screenshot

Individually and collectively, we were impressed with what we came up with as a group, because none of us alone could have created what we all created together.

I want to extend a very special thank you to everyone who has been part of this process. If you haven't been able to participate so far, come next time and contribute your ideas!

At next week's community meeting we will start to plan and develop the media needed to build the course (media such as PDFs, Word Docs,  interactive elearning activities, and PowerPoints.) 

I hope you can join us to add your wisdom, insights, and perspective!

Join us on Saturday

many people online in a conference call

We'll start planning and developing our actual course media!

To develop the course content, we'll draw on the question banks we came up with in previous weeks, relating to attitude adjustments, practical skills, and learning strategies that can help us cope with this unprecedented situation.

  • Attitude questions

  • skills questions

  • Learning questions

What mindset changes do we need to make?

After exploring helpful mindset adjustments we can make, we realized that mindset change is only PART of what we need to focus on. We decided that our course will not be a mindset course, but it may have some mindset change components in it.

trello mindset course screenshot

The process we are using to develop this "crowdsourced" learning experience, differs in important ways from the process you would use to create your own individual course in your own area of expertise.

The pandemic is an area in which none of us has expertise. Even the experts in global health don't yet have the full range of expertise needed to handle such an unprecedented situation effectively. We are all participants in a global learning experience in which the stakes are as high as they can possibly be, for everyone involved.

Learning is always about adapting to one's environment in ways that promote survival. But the stakes are not usually as clear and as stark as they are now.

As experts in our own fields who are interested in developing transformative online courses, the pandemic provides an opportunity to learn about learning itself (and online learning in particular) in ways we have never seen before.

In your own area of expertise, you can use the Course Design Formula® as a set of guidelines to structure your extensive prior knowledge in ways that help people benefit from what you already know.

But when, as in this situation, no one yet has the right expertise, we must instead rely on unguided discovery learning

We are feeling our way in the dark, and finding out where the limits and edges are by running into them. Working together as a community, we can find those edges faster and bring our collective wisdom and energy to bear on a problem that impacts us all.

Join us next Saturday

to continue this journey of exploration!

Developing a cognitive strategies course

People untangling a ball of yarn together

At last Saturday's community meeting, we discussed the questions can we ask ourselves, that will help us survive and thrive under all conditions, and especially, the conditions we are all dealing with now in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

We decided to use the questions we came up with, to develop a sample cognitive strategies ("learning how to learn") course as a group. That's what we will work on at next week's community meeting.
 

With profound thanks to everyone who attended for their participation and insightful contributions, here are some of the important questions we came up with as a group:

  •  How can we have  balanced healthy lives under any conditions?
  • How can we have thriving businesses that support our lives in a way that is balanced?
  •  How can we allow equal time for ourselves and the people that we're here to serve?

We decided that we will now ask ourselves the following powerful question:

How does my mission continually align with my clients’ desires and what they are willing to pay for? 

How do I ensure this going forward under all conditions?

Finding effective answers to such questions, especially under conditions of uncertainty such as we are facing now, is not an easy task. This is deep work, the work of learning at the most fundamental level.

(Remember that learning means adapting to conditions in ways that promote and optimize well-being and survival).

The stakes are very high: for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the planet as a whole.

Come help us develop effective learning strategies that can help us find answers to these and other important questions.

Join us next Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will start to actually BUILD our group

 cognitive strategy ("learning how to learn") course


In a complex and unprecedented situation where no one has all the answers (or sometimes, ANY answers), working collectively can help us find solutions we would not have been able to find on our own.

I'm creating a Google doc with the questions we came up with at last week's meeting, and will share it via email with those on the Learn and Get Smarter email list. We can keep adding questions to consider, as we think of them.

You may enjoy this enlightening article from Harvard Business Review, on how businesses can approach decision making when faced with complex, unpredictable, and unprecedented systems.

People untangling a ball of yarn together

For the next few days, think about  questions to ask yourself in YOUR business, that will help you adapt to a complex and unpredictable environment.

Then come join us next Saturday as we start exploring answers in the form of a cognitive strategies course we can create together!

Developing strategies to learn how to survive and thrive

A group of people helping each other survive and thrive

At our community meeting last week, we used the structure of a "how to" course to think about how to survive and thrive under conditions of extreme uncertainty, specifically, the current conditions due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

We decided that the "target audience" for the course we are creating together, will be us, ourselves... this Learn and Get Smarter community of experts and entrepreneurs who are focused on creating quality online courses.

Since we are designing the course for ourselves, we will be able to test its usefulness to us, once we have it developed.

At next week's meeting (on Saturday, April 18th, at 9 AM Pacific/ 12 noon Eastern) we will put the work we've done over the past two weeks together, to create a cognitive strategy course.  The learning goal for the course will be to help us think about what we need to learn (and how best to learn it) in order to cope with the current pandemic on all levels of our lives and society.

We decided to focus on using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as an organizing framework for thinking about how to survive and thrive at each level.

If you have my book, you can read about how to structure a cognitive strategy course on pages 156-157 of the paperback.

During the meeting, we will use the work we've done over the past several weeks, to figure out what the cognitive strategy (or strategies) should be. We've looked at both mindset changes and practical skills that will be helpful.... now it's time to put this all together in an effective and engaging way.

Come join us next Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will design a

 cognitive strategy ("learning how to learn") course

for adapting to change

 in the face of the current pandemic.

As these meetings evolve, my goal is to help you understand the different types of course design structures you can use to support different types of learning.

As a community, we are gaining hands-on practice and experience in building something new together, from the ground up.

When you design a course in your own area of expertise, you are, by definition, an expert.

The Course Design Formula® can help you overcome the "expert blind spot" that makes it hard for experts to see what non-experts (your future course participants) must understand in order to benefit from participating in your course.

During our Saturday community meetings, we are using aspects of the Course Design Formula® in a different way, though. 

In this case, we are dealing with a situation where no one in the world yet has the expertise fully needed to deal with a novel and unprecedented situation. We are living in what I refer to as the "fractal zone"...an area of swirling chaos and uncertainty, that is part and parcel of chaos theory.

In fact, chaos theory may be a useful organizing principle to help us think about these chaotic conditions and uncertain times.

Abstract Living Coral Reef Colorful Sea Swirl Spiral Pattern Trendy Colors Bright Pastel Orange Teal Light Blue Fractal Fine Art Nautilus Sea Shell

This Saturday, we will work on developing cognitive strategies for dealing with the uncertainty and risk inherent in chaos. Our goal is to optimize our own and each others' abilities to survive and thrive in unpredictable complex conditions.

Come join in the conversation and share in the synergy!